In our last blog we provided an overview of how the Starlink network consists of thousands of satellites each coming into view of your antenna for only a few minutes at a time. It sounds like a marvelous system, and it is pretty good, but that doesn’t mean it is perfect.
Have you considered what happens when one Starlink satellite is moving out of your view and another is coming into it? Yes, the system must direct your receiver to change the phased array antenna it is using and to use another one instead so it can point to a different satellite. Does all this happen instantly? Virtually nothing in the world happens instantly. Control signals must be sent to your receiver/antenna and it has to change where it “points.” Everything takes a certain amount of time!
In fact, we can estimate that it takes a couple of tenths of a second for this to happen. One reason we can make this guess with some confidence Is that your Starlink connection exhibits numerous brief interruptions on the order of a couple of tenths of a second in duration. This information is easily obtained from the Starlink app as shown in Figure 1. Notice that these interruptions occur every couple of minutes.
Being a bit of a geek, your author asked Starlink what caused these interruptions, and I was told that these are caused by the switching of my connection from one satellite to the next.
So, who cares if there is an outage of a couple of tenths of a second? In fact, you may not care if your Starlink usage is primarily for streaming video from major streaming sources such as Netflix or YouTube TV. Most, but not all, programming on those services is heavily buffered with stored video data, sometimes with as much as 10 minutes of buffer. That makes you pretty immune from brief outages doesn’t it?
It sort of does until you choose to watch a live sporting event or even your local news broadcast. It can also affect you if you participate in lots of Zoom meetings or use your internet connection for video phone calls. Those can freeze, lose lip sync and more as a result of these minor interruptions.
In addition, Starlink also has random outages of several seconds or more most days. They aren’t very frequent, but they can be very annoying if you are trying to use Starlink to run a business or teach a class. Figure 2 is a list of such interruptions on my Starlink over the past 12 hours. Most of them are caused by minor obstructions in the field of view of the dish caused by trees, etc., but a couple were caused by the Starlink network itself. One additional thing to think about is that when your Starlink connection pauses as the result of such interruptions , all the WiFi enabled devices in your home or RV will stop functioning if their setup involves the Starlink’s WiFi.
So, what can you do about this? How can you minimize the effects these Starlink interruptions have on your use of the internet. The answer is redundancy! If we could “combine” the Starlink data signal with one or more other internet sources, then we could minimize the impact caused by a Starlink signal interruption.
But isn’t the Starlink signal unique? Not really! Even though Starlink’s satellite constellation makes it rather unique, once a customer’s data signal is decoded by the Starlink receiver, it is no different from signals received through most any sort of hotspot, phone, etc. Starlink provides a router to connect to its receiver, but that router is rather basic and has a very limited set of user-adjustable parameters.
So how do we achieve redundancy? Actually, it’s quite easy with a WiFiRanger router. Ranger routers now have “native” support for Starlink which means that, if you have a rectangular Gen 2 Starlink you can put the Starlink router into “bypass” mode and connect by Ethernet to your Ranger (as long as it’s operating on firmware version 7.1.0b13 or later). If you have a Gen 1 round Starlink or the new High Performance in-motion system, you can literally remove the Starlink router entirely and use your Ranger in place of it. In both cases you will retain the full functionality of the Starlink app. But even more importantly you will be able to use the Ranger in MultiWAN mode with your Starlink connection being combined with, for example, a cellular hotspot.
That’s how I use my Starlink with my WiFiRanger Aspen in combination with a Verizon hotspot. I use the Ranger in Load Balance mode and the result is almost total elimination of any buffering caused by Starlink outages. I could probably get similar results with a Hot Standby configuration, but I’m not confident that all the brief outages would be entirely eliminated. With Load Balance, there is always a “fallback” connection regardless of whether or not your Starlink is connected. My hotspot has an unlimited data allowance; if it didn’t have that I’d probably use Hot Standby to minimize its data usage.
Furthermore, if you are in a location where Starlink reception is impossible due to tree cover or similar issues, the Ranger’s MultiWAN will continue to provide a secure local network with internet access even though the Load Balance would have only one source. As a result, your Alexa or similar smart devices won’t have to be reprogrammed since they would still be set to connect to the Ranger’s WiFi which won’t have changed. In today’s world of interconnected devices, I sure wouldn’t want to have to reprogram all my WiFi-enabled devices just because I couldn’t receive Starlink at a particular campground!
Similarly, if you’re an RVer using the Starlink app’s newly available sleep schedule to reduce your nighttime power consumption, a MultiWAN with your cellular hotspot and Starlink will permit you to keep your internet access available for off-hours updating even when you let your Starlink “snooze” to reduce the drain on your batteries.
The bottom line is that Starlink is amazing, but even the most amazing thing can often be improved upon. WiFiRanger enables you to make your Starlink even better!